The Difference Between A Good Work Ethic And A Workaholic

I recently spent a weekend at the hospital passing a gallstone. Without a doubt, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. For awhile it was pretty stuck, and I was sure that the only way to alleviate my pain would be to undergo surgery.

Fortunately, while I was waiting to be scheduled, I passed the stone, so I didn’t have to have surgery. However, before it passed, I decided to call clients I had booked for the following week and cancel the work I had scheduled.

In 25 years of being a professional speaker and trainer, I’ve never cancelled due to illness. I felt like I was letting my clients down. Fortunately, they were very understanding.

Once the stone passed and the emergency and pain were over, I was perfectly capable of getting on an airplane and out to my clients. When I called them to let them know that I was okay to deliver the training we had agreed to, they were quite happy to proceed with the original plan.

Overworked

I sent a text to my adult sons telling them that I was leaving town after all, and would be hopping on an airplane within hours of returning home. I joked that I was a workaholic. I immediately felt guilty about that. I didn’t want to be a workaholic.

Fortunately, my guilt was short-lived because it was pointed out to me that perhaps workaholic was not the right term—instead, I was showing a good work ethic, and a commitment to excellent customer service.

Having me not show up would have been very inconvenient for my clients. One was a conference, and they would have had to scramble to find a last-minute replacement. The others had the training all scheduled, all the attendees confirmed, and the locations reserved. Rescheduling all of that would have been quite a lot of work. They all appreciated that I was able to jump on an airplane and speak at their events after all.

Do you confuse being a workaholic with having a good work ethic? I’m betting you have a very good work ethic too, right?

A workaholic compromises their values and beliefs, feeling that if they don’t do whatever work is awaiting them there will be a catastrophe.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us want to be good at our jobs. We want to excel at what we do. Not necessarily because we want a promotion (although some of us do), not necessarily so we get great performance reviews (although that is nice too), but because we have integrity and just basically want to do a good job. Our work ethic demands that we deliver exceptional value to our employer. When we’re at work, we give 110% all the time because it is the right thing to do.

Does that make you a workaholic? Not necessarily.

I was recently having a conversation on an airplane with a woman and we were discussing the work ethic of the millennial generation. She was under the belief that they didn’t have the work ethic we (their parents) had.

I disagreed with her. I explained that I felt many of us in my generation (I’m in my 50s) confused a good work ethic with actual workaholic tendencies. We believed that if we worked hard enough and put in enough hours, we would be rewarded. And some of us were.

Exhausted young businessman

However, there was a cost for many of us as well. Divorce rates are sky-high. Burnout and depression are leading causes of disability. Stress levels are too high. And our children (the millennials) have mainly decided to refuse to do that for the almighty dollar.

My sons are both millennials. They both have fantastic jobs, and I’m very proud of them. What they’ve also created is good life-balance between their jobs and their personal lives. They have work boundaries. They value and treasure their family time. They do their jobs well, and give their companies 110%, but they don’t routinely cross the line to workaholic from good work ethic.

A workaholic compromises their values and beliefs, feeling that if they don’t do whatever work is awaiting them there will be a catastrophe. They fear the consequences of what could happen professionally much more than they fear the consequences of what could happen personally.

A person with a good work ethic balances their professional needs alongside of their personal needs to ensure that neither is being compromised.

I have a good worth ethic. Once I was out of pain and out of danger, there was no reason I couldn’t honour my commitment to my clients.

And once I realized I really wasn’t a workaholic, I felt a whole lot better!

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Author: Rhonda Scharf